aside ASLI Monthly Featured Artist – Michelle Morgan: talking art, mental health, shame and how to create change.

Art by Michelle Morgan
Art by Michelle Morgan

Michelle Morgan 23, from Portsmouth, UK, is an interdisciplinary/mixed media artist including painting, printmaking, photography and performance art. Michelle likes to explore autobiographical themes and actively engage with political issues within her creativity and work. 

Having had a formal education at both the Arts university college Bournemouth and brockenhurst college Michelle felt that the training was warping her creative voice as an artist, leaving her with no option than to leave both before her courses had been completed. Opting for self development and learning, Michelle started to focus on layering, mono printing and art journalling, so as to expand on skills without the pressure of conformity from art institutions, allowing for her creative vision to unfold.

Michelle is no stranger to ASLI as she has donated art to be auctioned to raise money for our Bursledon House project as well as being a great supporter and a continued inspiration to both Art Saves Lives International founder and MD Charlotte Farhan and artistic projects & campaign director Lisa Reeve with her art journaling on her ongoing recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder.

Michelle has been chosen as our first ever Monthly Featured Artist, not only due to her exceptional talent but also because she embodies the ASLI mission and aim as she creates change using art and uses her art to Engage, Educate and Express Our World.

For this feature we discuss Michelle’s latest project and exhibition which deals with the subject of SHAME.

Submission Subject– “It’s only cause you dragged me through the mud” 

"It's only cause you dragged me through the mud" by Michelle Morgan
“It’s only cause you dragged me through the mud” by Michelle Morgan

DIRTY – Adjective:
“covered or marked with an unclean substance.”
“(of an activity) dishonest; dishonourable.”

When you walked past me in the street and shouted that I was dirty, I hung my head in shame. I tucked those words close into my chest and held them, for 5 years.

If they could see it, then so must I, surely?
There must be dirt on my face…
If only I keep scrubbing till you tell me it is gone.
Tell me I am clean…

I was a lonely, quiet girl who needed love. I was the girl who never learned her worth was more than sex, more than what she could do to please people. I was the girl who desperately sought affection from anyone close enough to give. I desperately sought the approval I was never given, and learned to find it in the arms of strangers…

But I was never dirty.
I was never unclean.
I was never dishonest.

So, If you look at me and see dirt…
“It’s only cause you dragged me through the mud”

Mixed media on watercolour paper, 12″ x 16″.
Exploring sexual norms within society, etymology and shame.

"It's only cause you dragged me through the mud" by Michelle Morgan
“It’s only cause you dragged me through the mud” by Michelle Morgan

Here is ASLI’s interview with Michelle:

What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject? 

I exist in a world where how authentically you present yourself, is part of your value. Vulnerable offerings are valued above polished, false pretences. However how authentic can we be, when standing in our vulnerability, when our authentic self holds onto deep shame?

If being authentic comes at the cost of judgement, losing family or friends and stigma- is it still worth it? 

Spending part of my teen years in the sex industry, I have been driven to explore deep feelings of shame caused  by judgements and the stigma surrounding the industry. 

I wrote openly for a long time – I would share my story and I would write that I wasn’t ashamed.  And I wasn’t. I understood the decisions I had made and could accept them, wholeheartedly. 

And then, suddenly… I was.  

I can’t pinpoint the one thing that changed, rather a collection of emotions, events and interactions that grew over time into a black ball of shame that sat in my stomach and made me over analyse every thought, every decision and every action- unsure if they were my own. 

As an artist, especially one who inhabits such an authentic circle, the need to share while simultaneously hiding parts of myself ate away at me for a long time.

Gaining understanding of these feelings led to exploring the links between shame, vulnerability and connection. 

The submission piece “It’s only cause you dragged me through the mud” is a key piece in my upcoming body of work “The Death of Shame”. Which will use art as a means to sit with my vulnerability and shame, in order to increase my capacity for connection.

 

What is your process when creating?

Using so many different mediums allows me to be diverse in my approach which means I don’t have one ritual – instead it is a process of conceptualising and planning what I need to say, researching words and images that connect to the subject before deciding on the medium and sitting down to work! 

 

Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?

Ana mendieta, Tracey emin, Amanda Palmer, effy wild, Tamara Laporte, karen Michel, josh petker, David choe, Ben tour. 

 

Who inspires you in general?

People who live authentically and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable. People who aren’t afraid to TRULY connect. At the moment, the work of Brene Brown and Amanda Palmer is particularly poignant.

 

What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?

Supporting Mental health, ending stigma, bringing about an end to trafficking and forced prostitution, promoting sex worker rights, creative arts as healing and therapy.

 

What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?

Art most definitely saved my life – in the darkest times of drugs and depression the one thing that kept me alive was the yearning to do something with my life and become known for my creativity. From the earliest age – I knew I was meant to be an artist; when mental health problems caused problems in my education, the art room was the one place I felt secure within school, and the one lesson I would never be truant from! 

Art is the biggest catalyst for the behavioral change in my life; I try to channel all my emotions through art – using art journals to record and explore themes events and emotions from the day. Having been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, I have extremes of emotion both positive and negative, and art journaling gives me a place to explore these safely with no pressure for it to look “good”.

 

Could your artistic and creative outlets help create change in the world?

I hope the upcoming project will lead people to think about the complexity of human connection and maybe release some stigma from those already marginalised by society.

 

What are your present and future goals for your art?

I am currently stepping away from the mixed media direction and more towards interdisciplinary- exploring themes using performance, photography and text as well as my normal style of mixed media painting. My current body of work “the death of shame” will be released in the upcoming months with a one off art zine, before submitting as an exhibition proposal to local contemporary art galleries. The submission piece “It’s only cause you dragged me through the mud” is one of the key pieces from that body of work. 

 

Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?

I have only recently gained the breadth of understanding I have now, despite feeling the affects of mental illness my whole life. I was recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder – a condition that has unknowingly defined my behaviour; causing extremes of emotion that affected every avenue of my life – destructive dependant relationships, drug abuse and seeking love and acceptance through sex. Since my diagnosis I underwent a years worth of dialectical behavioural therapy which helped me gain new insight and a whole new level of self awareness that allows me to move forward in life. 

 

How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?

Art is the channel I use to process all emotions – I intertwine ALL my DBT skills learned in therapy with creative activities and have recently created a workbook to help others do the same. I use art as a channel for when the emotions become too overwhelming to regulate properly, often distracting myself with craft or channelling the emotions and energy directly onto the page.

 

Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?

There are too many times to count. An ex and I once broke up because I was “Emotionally retarded”, and I have even lost a job being told “depression isn’t a good enough reason” to get up late in the morning! Most of my behaviours are not understood as direct symptoms of mental illness and therefore I have lost many friends due to being seen as impulsive, manipulatve or promiscuous!

 

Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?

My years worth of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy was state funded.  It revolutionized my life.

Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?

While conditions for treatment and general acceptance of mental illness is improving in our culture, there remains a stigma that mental illness leaves you somehow “broken”. This heavy burden is felt by those with less commonly understood disorders such as psychosis, personality disorders or schizophrenia. An opposite stigma exists within conditions such as anxiety or depressive disorders, with high functioning individuals producing an image of the recovery that is unattainable in serious conditions! 

 

How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?

I would like to answer this question without being overly political or cynical but I can’t, so let’s just say I’m unsure our current UK government cares about ANYTHING!

 

Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help? 

Not in a formal setting but on my own terms, creativity is the means I use to process all emotions and my creative work, being highly autobiographical, is a visual glimpse into my journey of recovery and personal development. 

 

Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?

Art has a long history of being used in therapeutic settings – a piece of my own work- The Creative DBT Workbook, is being delivered in a number of therapeutic settings as we speak! 

 

Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?

Yes! Art and imagery is a universal language shared by us all – it cuts through cultural boundaries and barriers. 

Artists working with or experiencing mental illness, like those featured by ASLI, are vital at breaking down stigma by visually representing our experiences and emotional states in a visually accessible and thought provoking way. 

 

Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the workplace and for equal opportunities? 

Yes! In the same way allowances are made for someone who has a broken leg or a necessary operation, allowances should be made for those in work who need to undergo treatment for mental illness.

In some cases, a persons mental condition can be so serious they are not able to hold down the same level of work as before – in these cases flexibility should be allowed, and a non judgemental stance taken if an employee needs to leave work completely. 

For those who have been out of work, I believe structured support should be available to help them back into work IF and WHeN they are ready, as long as those implementing the support are aware of potential risks for relapse in recovery, and providing help in a safe, non threatening manner. 

 

We at ASLI want to de-stigmatize diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat others and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any other chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and marginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?

I feel labels can provide a breadth of knowledge around symptoms and a base of understand around someone’s condition. However each person is different and diagnosis only acts as a basis for understanding and a starting point on the recovery journey.

I feel greater understanding of labels is definitely a necessary part of de-stigmatising mental illness. 

 

Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion and if so why? 

I would prefer to work with companies, like ASLI that have understanding and lived experience of mental health issues. I’m self employed because of negative experiences with employers stigma of my health problems. I feel workplace training is key in building a society that is more accepting and supportive of mental illness – without it more people will suffer degradation of health and the numbers experiencing mental illness will only continue to rise. 

 

We at ASLI will keep you up to date on Michelle Morgans upcoming exhibition and will continue to feature Michelle in our campaigns and projects as she is an official ASLI Artist.

To find out more about Michelle please follow these links and support this very important and inspiring artist:

Website: www.michellemorganart.com 

Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/michellemorganart 

Twitter: @MichelleM_Art

Artist Michelle Morgan
Artist Michelle Morgan

 

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